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Charges Against Gates Dropped, Resentments Linger

Black America Web.com, News Report , Jackie Jones Posted: Jul 22, 2009

An agreement was reached Tuesday to drop disorderly conduct charges against Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., who was arrested and charged last week following a disagreement with a Cambridge police officer.

The City of Cambridge, the Cambridge Police Department, and Professor Gates acknowledge that the incident of July 16, 2009 was regrettable and unfortunate, according to a statement released Tuesday. This incident should not be viewed as one that demeans the character and reputation of Professor Gates or the character of the Cambridge Police Department. All parties agree that this is a just resolution to an unfortunate set of circumstances.

Gates was arrested after he returned from a trip to China, where he had been working on a documentary. As he and his driver tried to enter his home about 12:30 in the afternoon, Gates had trouble opening the door. A neighbor apparently seeing the men working to enter the house called Cambridge police and reported a possible breaking and entering incident involving two big black men.

Im not exactly a big black man, Gates, a slightly built man who walks with a limp and uses a cane as a result of a hip injury, told TheRoot.com. I thought that was hilarious when I found that out.

When Sgt. James Crowley arrived, he asked Gates for proof that he lived in the house. Gates presented the officer with his university ID and his drivers license, which verified the address, but Crowley insisted on questioning the director of Harvard's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research further, eventually arresting Gates on his doorstep and taking him to Cambridge Police Station, where he was detained for four hours.

I think its a wake-up call to the larger community about how police should interact with the community, Charles Ogletree, a Harvard law professor who handled Gates case, told BlackAmericaWeb.com.

This is not an argument for a special exemption or special treatment for Professor Gates because hes a Harvard professor, Ogletree said. No citizen should find themselves in their own house, proving they belong there, and to be assumed not to be a lawful resident.

Ogletree said what happened to Gates could happen to anyone, but not everyone has the resources to call a lawyer and to get the media attention to help expedite a conclusion to such a case.

According to the police report, Gates yelled repeatedly at Crowley who had followed the professor into his home when he went to retrieve identification. The report said Gates accused the cop of racist behavior and followed the officer onto the porch where he continued to berate the officer, who then arrested Gates on a charge of disorderly conduct.

Some suggested Tuesday that Gates response should have been lower keyed or more deferential, considering he was dealing with a police officer.

And whats the right way? Ogletree asked. The right way is to follow the police officers instructions and he did.

Further, his lawyer said, Gates had a right to ask the officer for his information in order to file a complaint, which Gates did and the officer refused to do. Instead, he understood Im the one with the power to arrest you and he did, Ogletree said.

The real problem, Ogletree said, was that once Gates proved residency, the police officer should have just closed the report.

After meeting with Cambridge officials, Ogletree said, Everybody realized it, outside of the officer, once they reviewed this. The officer in the middle of the dispute focused on Professor Gates denial of being a burglar and not on his being a rightful resident.

Randall Kennedy, a law professor at Harvard and a colleague of Gates, said, "the situation was really a very extraordinary episode.

This is the sort of episode that has come up over and over again, Kennedy, the author of several books on the African-American experience, told National Public Radio. It's part of what fuels the feeling of frustration and anger. This is really, truly remarkable. But it would be wrong to say that this is sort of completely out of left field. The facts are so striking here. It is part of a pattern that is well-known. It will resonate with lots of black people, especially black men, who have experienced something similar."

In the article on NPR.orgs Web site, Kennedy quoted from a 1995 story in The New Yorker magazine, which lists a number of prominent black Americans who had similar run-ins with the police, including musician Wynton Marsalis, author Walter Moseley, scholar William Julius Wilson and Erroll McDonald, a prominent African-American executive in publishing.

Ogletree said he had nothing but respect for law enforcement officers and the jobs they have to do each day, but there needs to be greater education of officers on how to be tough and use better judgment.

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